Best Reads 2016: Leena Sarma


I read a number of books in the year 2016, some were refreshingly good, some inane. The books I really enjoyed reading in 2016 were those which have been lying there in my shelves since the last two or three years almost gathering dust. The most notable among those books was the one which ventured out to explore the fascinating inner world of Draupadi, ‘The Palace of Illusions’ by Chitra Banerjee Divakurni. I could find a different perspective of the War of Mahabharata after reading this immensely enjoyable psychological narrative. Draupadi became the quintessential woman, era or age had got nothing to do with her strengths or travails.

The second book which kept me glued was the sprawling novel by Aruna Chakravarti ‘Jorasanko’, an absorbing read with clearly etched out women characters. It’s a sensitive portrayal of the hopes and fears, triumphs and defeats experienced by the women of Tagore household, a beautiful book set against the backdrop of Bengal Renaissance.

The third book I enjoyed reading was ‘Don’t Kill Him!’ an account on the life of Osho Rajneesh by his close confidante and Secretary Ma Anand Sheela. The multifaceted personality of one of the most controversial spiritual men of the last century and webs of intrigues spun around him have been brought to the fore by the author through different interesting anecdotes. 

Among the non-fiction, one book which really captivated me was ‘Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets’ by Svetlana Alexievich. It was the most recent acquisition but I couldn’t resist the temptation of finishing it in one go. The book documents the last days of communism in the Soviet Union and the dawn of a new way of living in contemporary Russia. The protagonists in the book were all ordinary citizens and one could delve into the bottom of a veiled society through the travails, joys and aspirations expressed candidly by the man on the street.

Currently, I am going through a breathtakingly honest memoir of a Stanford resident neurosurgeon Paul Kalanithi , a harrowing tale of pain of a person who wrote it while on the cusp between life and death: ‘When Breathe becomes Air’. He was just 36 and his life was furiously ticking away being diagnosed with lung cancer. He saw life from two  perspective, first as a doctor and then as a patient.

Among the Assamese books, the one which really took my breath away was Buddhajaya, the strong willed but deserted wife of Gautam Buddha. The command over the language by the young author Geetali Bora is superb, the storyline is taut in the backdrop of a very complex scenario.

Leena Sarma is a bureaucrat and an accomplished writer.